When animals attack… on our campus

Bats, squirrels, raccoons, skunks, deer, hawks, moose, snapping turtles and the occasional bear comprise just a few of the animals that Security has had to deal with as part of their job of keeping the campus safe. While forcing bats out of buildings, trapping rats and other rodents or keeping students at a distance from the occasional bear may not be the first thing that most people associate with Security, animal control is an important consideration for college security personnel.

“We approach animal control as we would any other public safety issue,” said David Boyer, associate director of Security. “We attempt to isolate the problem, consider potential solutions, call in any backup if necessary and solve the problem.”

Most of the animal control issues that security deals with originate either as an observation by an officer or as a call from a concerned student. The problem is then dealt with either by Security or Buildings and Grounds (B&G), depending on the nature of the issue and the time of the call, with Security dealing with any issues that occur outside of business hours.

According to Security Officer Robert Bleau, the most common type of animal- related calls involve bats that have somehow gotten into college buildings. This is a particular problem at the Williams College Museum of Art (WCMA), as bats have been known to set off the motion detectors. Bats have also been able to get into student dormitories, often due to windows left open without screens.

Whenever Security responds to a bat call, the responding officer locates the point of entry so that no more bats will be able to enter the building in the future. Security has to be vigilant due to concerns about rabies. Although, to Boyer’s knowledge, no student has ever contracted rabies from a wild animal, students have had to get rabies shots after being hit by flying bats.

The Security personnel have not received any special training on how to deal with the bats, meaning that every encounter offers a new chance to learn how to best deal with them.

“We’ve tried everything when it comes to bats,” Boyer said. “Towels, mops, blankets. We’ve found that badminton or tennis rackets work the best as the bats have trouble detecting them with their radar.” Boyer recalls how when the Massachusetts Teachers Association (MTA) was holding a conference at Williams a few years ago, Boyer and officer Robin Hart were given the nicknames “Batman and Robin” after they evicted a large number of bats from the dorms where the teachers were staying.

Aside from bats, the most common problems come from small rodents such as rats, squirrels and raccoons. Whole families of raccoons have been found in the basements of buildings such as Dodd Annex, while squirrels will occasionally be found in attics of buildings. Current students can be grateful that skunks are no longer a problem. For a period of a few years in the past, Boyer recalls, the campus was awash in skunk odor. He attributes the decline in such incidences to natural breeding cycles, as there was no way to combat the skunks.

Humane treatment of the animals is always a primary concern whenever Security has to get animals out of a building. Security will never exterminate an animal, but will instead trap the animal and then release it far enough away from campus that it will no longer be a problem.If Security is unable to deal with the problem themselves and is forced to call in a private pest control agency, however, the agency is obliged to exterminate certain animals due to State regulations.

Bigger animals such as bears and moose present a different kind of concern since Security cannot simply trap the animal and then let it go. In these rare instances, they will follow the animal from a safe distance while keeping people away until the animal wanders away from campus back into the wilderness. If necessary, Security also has the option of calling the Williamstown Police Dept. (WPD) or the local game warden before the situation gets out of hand.

Another source of animal related problems comes from students adopting wild animals, something that Boyer said they should never do. In the past, students have adopted animals such as squirrels and stray dogs, oftentimes hampering their ability to function in the wild. Boyer recalls how he adopted a dog that had been allowed to roam freely around the campus and was initially mystified to find that it would jump up and start barking whenever he would open a beer in front of it. Boyer figures that the dog had developed a taste for beer from living with students.

Boyer feels that Security is generally well equipped for dealing with any animal control issues and does not believe that any change is necessary in the College protocol for dealing with wild animals. “We don’t see it as a major problem,” he said. “It’s mostly just a nuisance.”